Most artists are creatures of habit. The perfection of a craft, coupled by the lived experiences and skill sets from which it grows, often lend itself to repetition. Simply put, most artists are creating what they know about based on what they can do and what is available to them. Given that, then, it is no surprise that most artists have certain habits you can count on them doing each time they create something.
By Shingi Mavima, Michigan, USA
It is, after all, this particular reality that makes us anticipate new projects without hearing any of them: we have a safe bet of what’s coming: Winky D will mix social commentary with a heavily metaphoric song about wooing a girl, King Shaddy has some crazy Danmore story to tell, JP will feature a young African superstar or two while the lead single will feature a rural or ghetto Zim story. Standard.
“we are what we do repeatedly. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”-Aristotle
In this article, however, I wanted to look at certain peculiar themes that continuously resurface in the works of different contemporary artists. Just to be clear, these are not negative traits. To be honest, they aren’t even inherently positive; they just are. Many of us like them, others don’t; but they are.
It is also important to remember that these are tidbits we pick up from and about their musical so this likely has nothing to do with their personal lives: just the music. I have also steered clear of overwhelmingly broad themes (e.g Trevor sings love songs) or on-the-nose observations (e.g Baba Harare’s Call-and-Response or Enzo’s ‘Levels Ribhe naFantan!’) With that unnecessarily long intro,here’s your list of seven Zim artists who have an interesting, sometimes quirky point of constant reference in their music.
1. Killer T Has Endless Haters
The Chairman is one of ZimDancehall’s all-time greats. Not only has he been consistent over the decade and achieved lyrical profundity often on par with yesteryear Sungura greats, he has also successfully innovated the genre. Anytime anyone makes the lazy argument that ZimDancehall is nothing but a ripoff of Carribean music, one just has to point to Killer T’s catalogue to dispute that claim.
That said, Killer T seems to constantly be dealing with a barrage of haters isn’t he? Consider the titular declaration from 2015’s ‘Vagara vanongovenga’ single off the Ngoma Ndaimba album. It was on the same album that he crooned about not insisting where the love doesn’t seem real on ‘Usamanakidza.’ Still on the same album, he even seeks divine help, when he prays:
“Shamwari dzacho chaidzo ndedzipi apa? Itai Ndione…”
Yet that theme of distrusting friends had already been a recurrent theme in his music prior to then. He had bemoaned the same plight on the self explanatory “Hushamwari Hwenyu’ (Mamero), and again on ‘Vanoudza Vanhu’. In which he sings,”zvataitaura tese wainoudza vanhu, uri mumero unondinyomba nevanhu!”
One may have thought, as the Chairman became a fixture in the game, he would have been able to dodge the nefarious friends a bit better, but no! In 2018’s Jah Prayzah-assisted Hondo, he again sings:
“Pane vanhu vanofara ndavira mugomba/
Kutadza kungonditakura tiende kumba.”
Why, just a couple of weeks ago, he released “Musoro Bhangu” about, you guessed it, a friend who doesn’t act right. The least is far from exhaustive!
Love Killer T, but how does he keep attracting such people around him? Past a certain point, it has to be, at least partly, your fault, right?
2. Holy Ten Can’t Stop Dreaming of His Future Family
Has anybody had a bigger year than Holy Ten? At the very least, the second half of the year has undeniably belonged to him. As a newer artist with a limited public discography as now, it may be too early to spot any real trends in his music, but this stuck out too much to passion. Catching the larger public’s attention in August with the twin conscious anthems that became part of the soundtrack for the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter moment, Amai and Ndaremerwa, it was the former that introduced us to Holy Ten’s predicted wife and son.
In the final verse of Amai, he raps:
Iye Mukadzi wangu mhamha, achauya zvaa nani
Achauya tanosiya pfuma kwaMuzarabani
When I have my first son, I’ll name him Mukudzei(I’ll name him after me…”
Then digging back into his recent catalogue from before his ‘big break’, one lands on what is my personal favorite song from him thus far, the song Tavada, dedicated to his eponymous brother who passed away earlier this year. As he signs off on the song, Holy Ten raps
“I’ll be sure to tell Mukudzei Jr’ when he’s born
That his uncle was the best friend I’ve ever known.”
Then again, in his most recent, somewhat more light-hearted offering, Bho Zvangu, the future missus shows up again! This time, he describes how:
“Cash ndichichengeta mudrawer mangu/
Mandichange ndakutora, pandichange ndakuroora, #BhoZvangu”
If you are keeping count, that’s a reference on three out of five of his most buzzworthy songs so far! That’s 60%! Enough for an incumbent candidate to dislodge the sitting president. In America. Maybe not in Zi…I digress.
For seeming like an outstanding gentleman, and because he dreams of family at a time when many of us (including current company) aren’t entirely sold on the idea, we can’t help but wish him very well!
3. Jah Prayzah is gonna have an ‘-era’ rhyme scheme
Jah Prayzah is an icon. I know I know…I’ve heard the debates around his political agency, both profound and petty. Those conversations only matter because he’s an icon: people would not notice or care if 90% of his peers made or did not make statements. Now go argue that bit with your MP; it’s not what I’m here to talk about.
Remember the 2013 Sulu Chimbetu collaboration, Sean Timba? Jah’s bridge was one of the most memorable parts of an incredible song:
“Tiri kutenderera, Tiri kukwira manera
Vari kudongorera, makoronyera!”
Now Jah boasts an incredible Shona vocabulary, and routinely draws upon English (and occasionally, other languages), so one would expect rhyme patterns to show up every now and then. Well, you’d be struck at how often Jah Prayzah’s lyrics find themselves back to words ending in ‘era.’ Let’s try a minor hit, Makanika, from 2016’s Kumbumura Mhute project.
“Uyo ndimakanika, ane zvipanera
Anobva Nigeria, kune ma naira (nayera)
Aimbova matanyera, akapotswa necholera”
The familiar scheme would have shown up the previous year in the song ‘Hello’, where he croons:
Ndotanga ndaombera, wondida here?
Ndokwira pamanera, ndodonha here?
Ndodya mutupo wandinoera, ndopera meno?
Ndoda ndinochera mbeva murutsva
We’re not even done: how about yesteryear’s jam, ‘Chitubu’, in which the tall one implores:
Kamwenje kamakandichengetera (ah zama)
Mukuru ndaombera (zama)
Aiwa ndanyengetera (zama)
The scheme also finds its way into both local and international collabs, as seen on Pahukama, Musamuvhunze, Sendekera, and Watora Mari.
Oh, and there’s a song many would rather forget about now, but remember:
Kutondizonda, ndakavaremera…” 😉
Gives a new meaning to the title, main man of our ‘era’ huh? No? I tried!
4. Shinsoman’s mind is always altered
Baba Devante had one heck of a run. Between, say, 2013 and 2016, he was indubitably among the top five (and perhaps top three) of the era. Then, as quickly as his rise had been, he seemed to disappear.
You can imagine my delight, then, when he resurfaced with quite possibly the standout track on the recently released Mashwede Riddim, simply titled Bartender. As I reminisced on his quite impressive discography, I couldn’t help but notice how often Shinso was drunk, or otherwise out of his element. He drove us wild with the Yoz-assisted Tasangana Zvidhakwa on the iconic Bodyslam Riddim back in 2014 (SN. Where is Yoz? His flow, and rapport with Shinso, was incomparable.) The year before, Shinso had introduced his drunken antics on Chibhodhoro with Stunner, chanting:
‘Hatisati tadhakwa, mirai muone nhasi
Patichanoti 1, Chibhodhoro 2,
Chibhodhoro 3, Zvibhodhoro….”
But it’s not just being explicitly drunk that alters Shinso’s state of mind: sometimes he’s unhinged (see ‘Tine Dzungu’) and, others, he is just, well gone crazy (“Ndakupenga”)
What a character, that Shinso.
5. Maskiri Lives for Forbidden Love.
Urban Legend. One of the all-time greats.
Maskiri belongs to that first wave of Urban Groovers from the turn of the century that includes the likes of ExQ, Pauline, and Roki. When he was hot, nobody in the game could touch him. I still have the Muviri Wese and Blue Movie tapes with me right now (for some reason; where am I gonna play them?)
While some of his peers have retained relative relevance over the past two decades and others faded into oblivion, Skillaz has dropped the odd song here and there to remind us of his preeminence. Most recently, he popped up on Nash TV with Vito (Trinity’s Kevie, of ‘Maidei’ & Zvachose fame) to perform a new single, Mai Mukudzei. It was vintage Maskiri, describing how he fell in love with the mother who was the leader of the church youth group. It’s a good song (although, for my money, Vito’s harmonies carry it!)
It reminded me of something.
One of the first songs I heard from Maskiri was ‘Zimhamha’ off the Muviri Wese project, in which he is spitting game to a much older lady. Taboo? Maybe a bit, but not unheard of. Thereafter, we were treated to courtships and affairs with the pastor’s daughter, gospel songstress Ivy Kombo, his Shona teacher and, most jarringly of all, his first cousin!
“Handibelieve tiri hama, cousin sha
Uri mwana wamaiguru wangu kwete wamai wangu”
Now look at your cousin. No, not in that way. But look at them. And listen to the song again. Sheesh Skillaz!
(SN, as I write this, I realize that the church-lady, or church in general, theme in Maskiri’s music could have been their own standalone entries!)
Seems like Maskiri is a sucker for forbidden love, often of the most inappropriate kind!
6. Freeman’s Friends Can’t be Trusted
Freeman is obviously not the only artist to have haters. Heck, he’s not even the only on this list. But unlike Killer T who tends to speak broadly about people being out to get you, Freeman tends to be stung those nearest and dearest. While the title of his recent ‘Color Vibes’ tune, Fake Friend, is pretty self-explanatory, it mirrors that of a minor single from five years ago, ‘Good Friend’, in which he bemoans the exact same plight: trusted friends talking crazy about him behind his back. How about his friend trying to holler at his girl in ‘Siya’?
But wait, how about in the Winky-assisted ‘Munhu Wenyama’ in which the chorus reads:
‘Freeman ndanzwa nekurasiswa nemunhu wenyama/
Kana neniwo Winky ndarasiswa pakawanda
Pangave pari pahushamwari kana pahukama
Tinozvipira kunatenzi weminana…”
The Dancehall Doctor doesnt seem to be spared this affliction even in romantic relationships. In ‘Kuramba ndarambwa’, his girl is leaving him for an apparently more successful someone, while ‘Rangarira’ is the story of a rendezvous with another love interest who did the same way back when.
Perhaps when your first line was to invite them on dates to Joina City, you can’t be too surprised when they leave for people who can take them back there for more than a single night 😉
Some friends, family, and lovers he comes across.
7. People Always Count Souljah Luv Out.
How many times are we going to treat Chibababa like a nonentity?
His come-up was garnished with tales of how not much was expected of him growing up, best captured in the 2014’s iconic from-the-gutter anthem, ‘Ndini Uya Uya’, in which he sings, among other things:
‘Zvaingonzi zvabiwa, zvainzi ndini ndaba/
Chaingonzi chadyiwa, zvainzi ndini ndadya/
Paingonzi pafiwa, painzi ndini ndafa”
While emotive, it is not a tale too different from one told by many of his peers: ghetto yuts growing up in the era of socio-economic dilapidation. That same year, however, he had expressed a similar intent of being undercut, chanting
“Pavari kufungidzira ndiri kuguma/
Ndiri kuattacka, futi handimbodzora tsvimbo.’
In 2017, Jah Luv dropped what is in my opinion one of the top ten hit songs that the ZimDancehall Genre has produced so far. In ‘Pamamonya Ipapo’, Souljah Luv is triumphant, as he dines with the bigwigs. Even then, his first verse starts off with:
‘Kunyange tichishorwa, paye paye patinotaurwa,” and the rest of the song reiterates the idea of him being in spaces where, by all appearances (Nekuonda Kudai), he shouldn’t be. Indeed, even at a time when he was indubitably a top three artist in the genre, thoughts of malevolence towards him were never too far off his mind.
In an iconic moment of self-fulfilling prophecy, Souljah Luv’s denigration of self came full circle, when performing at a ZANU PF Youth rally in 2017, when party youth leader Innocent Hamandishe chastised him for his ‘indiscipline’ and famously coining the now immortal phrase “Souljah Luv hachisi chinhu!” (Souljah Luv is nothing!) True to form, Jah Luv reacted by dropping a response within 48 hours, which itself raced to 100K views on YouTube in 36-48 hours (unheard of at the time.) And Hamandishe would be out of the job by year end, in and out of prison. So really, who is and who isn’t ‘chinhu’ there?
There you have it, Eargrounders. Seven artists with very specific tropes and tricks that show up recurrently across their discographies. Can you think of any more?
Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Mavima holds a B.A in international relations from Grand Valley State University (Michigan,) and a Masters of International Affairs degree from Pennsylvania State University. He has published two poetry anthologies, Homeward Bound and Mirage of Days Old, as well as one novel, Pashena. He is also the co-founder and executive director of CLUBHOUSE International, a non-profit organization dedicated to working with Zimbabwean primary school students in community-building projects.